The New York Islanders needed a bounce-back performance after back-to-back losses. In the previous two games, they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 and the Nashville Predators 4-1 and slowly were losing ground in the Metropolitan Division standings. Against the Chicago Blackhawks, they stepped up and looked like the better team in a 3-0 shutout victory.
The game itself was rather uneventful. The Islanders scored three goals in the second period but otherwise, it was a scoreless, goaltending duel with little to no offense. However, the Islanders stepped up and put together a great game, one where they showed why they are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
Varlamov’s Shutout Performance
Semyon Varlamov gave Ilya Sorokin, who started the previous two games, a much-needed night off as the starting goaltender. His last start was the Nov. 26 game against the Flyers where he saved 26 shots in a 5-2 win but despite his strong performances, he has seen a minimum number of starts this season. However, along with giving Sorokin some rest, he also put together a great game in the net as he led the Islanders to a victory.
He made plenty of big saves including some pivotal stops in the first period to prevent easy scoring chances for the Blackhawks. Along with keeping the game scoreless early on, Varlamov put together a 21-save shutout, his first of the season and 12th shutout in his tenure with the Islanders.
This game, while a strong one for Varlamov, spoke more to the greater picture of why the Islanders are one of the league’s best teams. They have a dynamic goaltending duo and whenever their backup starts the game, the team doesn’t lose a step. Sorokin is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL but whenever he needs a night off, Varlamov can carry the weight in the net, as he did against the Blackhawks.
Pelech Sets up Parise’s Big Goal
With a 1-0 lead, the Islanders put the game out of reach with Zach Parise’s goal. It was his eighth of the season, which along with Anders Lee, is second-most on the Islanders this season but defenseman Adam Pelech was the one who made the goal possible.
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The Islanders controlled the puck in the offensive zone and were applying pressure to the Blackhawks, but a Pelech shot on goal from a tough angle allowed Parise to redirect the puck to the back of the net. The goal was a reminder that enough shots will eventually pay off but more importantly, it was a reminder that the defensive unit has been a pivotal part of the offense this season. The defensemen have contributed from the point all season long and Pelech particularly has thrived in the new system, with three goals and eight assists through 26 games, putting him on pace for a career year.
Beauvillier & Nelson Cap Off 3-Goal Period
Anthony Beauvillier is at his best when he can operate in space, allowing him to easily create scoring opportunities. Under new head coach Lane Lambert, his ability to make plays on the rush has been highlighted this season and in the recent game, it was on full display. Beauvillier carried the puck into the offensive zone and found Brock Nelson on a cross-ice pass for the Islanders’ third goal in the second period and second in a 43-second span.
Nelson shot the puck to the top shelf to earn his team-leading 12th goal of the season. However, the goal was more about the connection that Beauvillier and Nelson have formed this season, notably using their speed to hurt opponents. The two skaters have combined for 17 goals and 19 assists and with Lee on the same line, the Islanders have a proven top line that can carry the offense.
Other Takeaways from the Islanders’ Win
- Matt Martin scored the first goal of the game as part of the fourth line that played a pivotal role in the win. Martin, along with Casey Cizikas and Hudson Fasching, who replaced the injured Cal Clutterbuck, limited the Blackhawks’ offense and helped the team maintain possession in the offensive zone.
- Ryan Pulock had a strong game for the defense, leading all Islanders skaters with 21:41 of ice time and blocking a team-high three shots. In addition, he also added an assist in the decisive 3-0 win and leads the defensive unit with 11 assists.
- Blackhawks goaltender Arvid Soderblom singlehandedly kept this game close, saving 37 shots and keeping the Islanders’ offense in check in the first and third periods. They had 40 shots or more for the second game in a row and unlike the 4-1 loss to the Predators, the pressure overwhelmed the opposing goaltender.
What’s Next for the Islanders
The Islanders play the St. Louis Blues in their next game, a team they defeated 5-2 on Nov. 2, and will face at home to wrap up the season series. The Blues are an opponent the Islanders will hope to take advantage of, especially considering their opponents to wrap up the week are the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils on consecutive nights.
The Islanders are having a good season and their 16-10 record is third-best in the Metropolitan Division. However, the upcoming stretch of games is going to be against difficult opponents and more importantly against teams they will be elbowing for position in the division standings. The Devils and Hurricanes are ahead of them and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a 13-8-4 record and have won seven of their last 10 games, suddenly look like a great team. As a result, the next few weeks will say a lot about the Islanders and if they can contend in the Eastern Conference for the rest of the season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.